Cubs

Devastating injury for Kang, but Cubs are playing with an edge now

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Devastating injury for Kang, but Cubs are playing with an edge now

PITTSBURGH – If the Cubs needed a moment to ignite a rivalry with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Coghlan might have delivered it by crashing into Jung Ho Kang with a hard slide that could echo into October.   

The Cubs are playing with an edge now, positioning themselves as a dangerous team to face in the postseason with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester fronting the rotation and a deep lineup that generated 17 hits during Thursday’s 9-6 victory at PNC Park. 

“I don’t think we’re necessarily thinking about making a statement,” Coghlan said after the Cubs cut their playoff magic number down to nine. “I think our whole year has made a statement.”  

Coghlan’s wipeout slide, barreling into Kang’s left leg, became the devastating postscript to the Cubs winning three of these four hard-fought games in Pittsburgh.

[SHOP: Buy a Joe Maddon jersey shirt]

The Pirates announced their South Korean shortstop underwent surgery at Allegheny General Hospital and will need six to eight months to recover from a torn left MCL and fractured tibia.

“I hate that he’s hurt,” said Coghlan, who sent a note over to Pittsburgh’s clubhouse. “He’s a great player and you never want to injury anybody. We’re a small fraternity as major-league players. You never want to see somebody hurt. But at the same time, you got to play the game hard.”

Manager Joe Maddon has been preaching “The Cubs Way” and sending his “Respect 90” message since spring training, when playing deep into October sounded like winning the lottery.

The Cubs now trail the Pirates by two games for home-field advantage in the Oct. 7 wild-card game (and have already clinched a winning record against their National League Central opponent).

[MORE: Arrieta will keep being a perfectionist]

The Pirates got the double play with the bases loaded in the first inning, but it came at a huge cost. Kang buckled when Coghlan’s right leg hammered his left leg, leaving him writhing in the dirt and clutching his knee.

“Absolute baseball,” Maddon said. “That is a good baseball play that’s been going on for the last hundred years. There’s no intent to hurt anybody. And sometimes you do get messed up. I’ve been on the side where my guy’s gotten hurt and sometimes the other guy gets hurt. But it’s just a good, hard baseball play.”

Kang’s agent, Alan Nero, who also represents Maddon, released a statement on behalf of his client:

“It is unfortunate that what would be considered heads-up baseball would cause such a serious injury. That said, Coghlan was playing the game the way it should be played. I’m confident he meant me no harm. I appreciate everyone’s support.”

Kyle Schwarber had already delivered a knee-to-knee shot on the previous play, when Kang dropped another potential double-play ball. This time, Kang needed help walking off the field and down into the dugout, wrapping his arms around a trainer and his interpreter.

[ALSO: Bill Murray proving again why he's Cubs No. 1 fan]

“I’ve been injured,” Coghlan said. “I’ve hurt my knee. I’ve played infield. I know what it’s like to turn a double play.”

Kang has been a worthy challenger to Kris Bryant in the Rookie of the Year race, a middle-of-the-order force (15 homers, 58 RBI, .816 OPS) and a versatile defender who can play shortstop and third base.

Where Maddon framed it as a matter of Kang’s technique, Coghlan also accounted for the speed of the hitter – “(Anthony) Rizzo’s not a blazer” – and a ball slowly rolling toward second base. Change a variable and the split-second decision could be the shortstop holding onto the ball and stepping out of the way.

“I don’t go out of line,” Coghlan said. “I’m completely within the rules. It just stinks because he didn’t have enough time to jump over top of me.

“So then the collision looks bad because there’s no give, there’s no take. Usually, you flip it, you jump over top, and if you clip him, you clip him. He falls down, but it’s not a direct hit.”

The Cubs now return home to Wrigley Field for another marquee series against the St. Louis Cardinals after going 7-4 on this 11-games-in-11-days road trip.

Matt Holliday taking out Starlin Castro had once been a snapshot for that rivalry, but the Cubs aren’t conceding anything now, trailing the Cardinals by 6.5 games heading into Thursday night. 

“All of us feel in here that we’re totally capable of catching them,” Coghlan said. “But that’s why you play the game. There’s a lot of variables. We can’t let our guard down. We have to beat the teams that we need to beat.” 

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.